RALEIGH, N.C. - Hal Gill first heard the jokes as a freshman at Providence College in 1993.

At 6-7, there was no way the Concord, Mass., native would be able to keep up with speedy Division I athletes from perennial power Boston University.

Gill heard the critics chirp again as a 22-year-old NHL rookie in 1997 with the hometown Boston Bruins. The cracks and the digs have continued annually, but after 1,103 career games, a Stanley Cup ring and millions of dollars, Gill is the only one still laughing.

"I've been too slow ever since I was in college," Gill said. "I'm too slow for college, too slow for the NHL. Honestly, I'm OK with being too slow. What people say about my speed is irrelevant.

"I want to go out there and keep it simple. Go hard, be strong around the net and be effective."

It probably comes as little coincidence then that the Flyers turned in their best defensive effort of the season Saturday during Gill's season debut. He sat out the first 12 games of the season as a healthy scratch, buried on the depth chart as the No. 8 defenseman, perhaps even lower than an AHL player or two.

Gill, 38, played close to 15 minutes. The Flyers allowed just 14 shots - their lowest total in a calendar year - and did not commit any giveaways, according to official scorers, something the team hadn't done in almost 3 years.

Footspeed jokes aside, Gill slowed the game down - something the Flyers desperately needed. He was confident, rarely rattled, and stabilized play in the Flyers' own end.

"I try to be a calming influence," Gill said. "[Coach Craig Berube] has talked about making our offense from our defense. That's what we're trying to do, but we have to establish that defense first.

"We had a few games where we were doing really well, we played well, we got a couple wins and then we let it slip again. It's those little turnovers that cost you - it could be one or two goals and cost you the whole game."

As a reward, it appears Berube will stick with Gill and partner Andrej Meszaros tonight against the Hurricanes.

"I thought he played really well," Berube said Saturday. "Both him and Meszaros went in and played a strong game together. They were physical and they killed the cycle."

It probably wasn't an easy decision for Berube to scratch 23-year-old Luke Schenn and 24-year-old Erik Gustafsson in favor of a 38-year-old Gill. It was the first time Schenn, acquired for James van Riemsdyk from Toronto in 2012, was a healthy scratch as a Flyer.

The last time Schenn was scratched, halfway through the 2011-12 season, it signaled the beginning of his end with the Maple Leafs.

"No one likes to be in this situation," Schenn said. "But at the same time, I'm not really losing any confidence because of it. I was always taught to worry about the things you can control. I don't choose who's playing, so I'll continue to work hard."

It's hard not to like what Gill has done so far. He entered camp on a tryout contract with no fewer than 10 defensemen ahead of him. He has remained in excellent shape, trim and fit for a 6-7 hulk of a man, and waited his turn.

Gill may play an old-school style, but it's hard to argue with his effectiveness. Amassing 1,103 career games doesn't happen by accident.

"He's been a good leader his whole life," Berube said. "Hal has been around a long time, won a championship. He knows how to play the game."

Emery & Obama

Goaltender Ray Emery, who could start tonight following his shutout Saturday in New Jersey, met the Flyers in Carolina after a stop at the White House yesterday to celebrate the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup victory one last time.

The Flyers gave Emery the day off from practice to meet President Obama in a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

"It was pretty cool," Emery said. "Once you get through all the security checks and have a tour, he introduced himself to everyone and chit-chatted before the press conference. For me, being a black person and meeting someone like that who is an inspirational figure, it was definitely exciting. It was a special day, I'll definitely remember it."

Slap shots

Vinny Lecavalier will return to the lineup tonight with a facial shield protecting his jaw and mouth area. He sustained facial contusions in his fight Friday night vs. Washington. The Flyers are 1-4 without Lecavalier this season . . . Carolina is just 1-3-3 at PNC Arena this season. Their only home win is against the Flyers, that 2-1 decision on Oct. 6 that led to Peter Laviolette's dismissal the next morning. The Hurricanes have lost five in a row overall. The Flyers are 21-3-3 in their last 27 meetings with Carolina.

Quotable

Coach Craig Berube, on whether Friday night's melee can have a positive effect:

"Any time a team sticks together and does things like that and cares about each other, good things happen after that. But we definitely have to play more consistent, better hockey to get on a roll. You love when your team sticks together, but we've got to go on the ice and play."

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